DERRÉ DE GAND, FRANÇOIS (also called de Ré and Sieur Gand or de Gand), commissary general of the Compagnie des Cent-Associés, benefactor of the missionaries and the Indians; d. 20 May 1641 at Quebec.
Sent to New France as commissary general of the Compagnie des Cent-Associés, Derré probably accompanied Champlain on the latter’s return to Quebec in 1633. He was a sort of holy layman, or mystic, as noteworthy for his humility as for his charity to the Indians, for whom he frequently acted as godfather and whose wounds he himself dressed. It appears that little is known of his official activity as commissary general. An attentive study of his work, however, leads to the realization that, along with the kindliness and understanding shown to the Indians, whom he persuaded to trust the French, he was also an effective servant of the Compagnie des Cent-Associés.
Adaptable, diplomatic, and a student of human nature, François Derré could also be firm. In 1636 in particular, he showed himself to be consummately clever when he realized that a group of Algonkins were seeking to come to an understanding with the Dutch in order to dispose of their furs. In the presence of the Algonkin chiefs gathered at Trois-Rivières, he declared that it was eminently just that the French should abandon them to their fate, if they preferred to have the Dutch take up their cause and defend them. Now the Algonkins were well aware that the Dutch were interested only in their furs and that they were not anxious to antagonize the Iroquois, especially the Mohawks, sworn foes of the Algonkins.
After Champlain’s death in 1635, François Derré became a real protector and father to the little French settlement at Quebec. His charitableness was unlimited if anyone had recourse to him for advice. The Jesuit Relations praise him endlessly. In 1636, at his own expense, he sent a particularly brilliant young Indian to study in France. The supply warehouse of the company was always open to needy Indians. He himself went several times to carry provisions to the lodges of Indians too weak to make their way to the warehouse. Every time that troops of young natives, pursued by the enemy, came to take refuge in the fort, the Jesuits sheltered the young men and M. de Gand accepted responsibility for the girls.
The exemplary life led by this charitable man did not preclude his being an excellent business man or prevent him from carrying out in every respect the duties of his office. From the moment of his arrival in New France he had realized that the resources of this new country gave promise of a brilliant future, and he applied himself to constructing sound spiritual and physical foundations for it. We have seen what a conciliatory policy he adopted towards the Indians in order to conserve their friendship and their furs. As soon as the Ursulines arrived at Quebec he assisted them in every possible way. The Jesuits found him a constant pillar of strength. He it was who, in 1638, took possession of the seigneury of the Île d’Orléans on behalf of a group of members of the Compagnie des Cent-Associés. Beginning in 1639 he took a special interest in the establishment at Sillery, where the Jesuits, urged on by M. Noël Brulart de Sillery, were proposing to found a village for Roman Catholic Indians. This territory had been granted to François Derré in 1637. He made a gift of his property rights to the Jesuits in 1639, and even sent workmen to give assistance to the missionaries, in addition to supplying them continually with provisions.
Generous to excess, François Derré, who had never married, lived very frugally himself. During the last years of his life, he made do with one little room located beneath the sacristy of the simple chapel erected in the building of the Cent-Associés after the fire at Notre-Dame-de-la-Recouvrance. It was there that he died 20 May 1641. He was buried in the chapel of M. de Champlain the next day. “He died in a sublime practice of patience; in a word, he died as he had lived – that is to say, as a man who seeks God in truth.”
JR (Thwaites), XXI, 108, et passim. Desrosiers, Iroquoisie. Dionne, Champlain, II, 461–65; “François de Ré dit M. Gand,” BRH, IX (1903), 23–27. “François de Ré, sieur de Gand,” BRH, VII (1901), 23. P.-G. Roy, La ville de Québec, I, 153f. H.-A. Scott, Une paroisse historique de la Nouvelle-France: Notre-Dame de Sainte-Foy: histoire civile et religieuse d’après les sources (Québec, 1902).
Revisions based on:
Bibliothèque et Arch. Nationales du Québec, Centre d’arch. de Québec, CE301-S1, 21 mai 1641.